According to some estimates, by 2050 the total global population will reach 9 billion, therefore it is predicted that in order to meet this demand, global food production needs to increase at least a 50%. However, to increase this demand presents a challenge to current agricultural methods given that they are heavily dependent on finite resources such as water, land and fossil fuels. The rising price of fuel is making chemical pesticides and fertilizers less affordable to farmers particularly those in developing countries; there is also a rising consensus of the harmful effects that the use of chemicals in intensive agriculture presents not just to the environment but also to human health, thus also increasing the demand for pesticide residue-free crops. These challenges are driving markets and legislation to support more organic, pesticide-free agriculture. Therefore it is of paramount importance that novel and more sustainable agricultural techniques are researched, in particular those, which can help reduce the need for chemicals but at the same time can help us achieve high crop productivity.
With the pressing issues and future challenges that global agricultural systems face, fungi such as Trichodrma spp. offer an enormous potential. They naturally occur in soils and have proven to exert pathogen biocontrol, enhance nutrient uptake and increase nitrogen use efficiency in plants. Some strains have even been found to ameliorate a range of abiotic stresses such as salinity and drought. All these make Trichoderma spp. a unique and a strong candidate to utilize as a BCA.
This project aims to widen the understanding of Trichoderma hamatum strain GD12. However due to time and resource constraints the research will only focus on the plant growth promoting mechanisms (PGP) rather than on biocontrol. T. hamatum GD12 has never been tested in water-based agricultural systems, therefore this research will focus on investigating the potential that this strain has in hydroponic and aquaponic systems.
The research will be multidisciplinary, addressing issues such as water stewardship and food security in developing countries. A major objective of the work is to assess the applicability and relevance of this strain of Trichoderma in developing countries. Therefore, in addition to laboratory research conducted at the University of Exeter, simple field trials with Trichoderma GD12 will be conducted in Thailand, in collaboration with Greenpeace International.
By combining laboratory and field experimentation, the results of the research will have the depth to be directly relevant at the farm scale and thus applicable where it is needed most. If, as hypothesised, the PGP traits observed in the laboratory are replicable under field conditions, then this fungus has the potential to greatly enhance the productivity of urban agricultural systems and thus may become a valuable tool for enhancing food security – particularly in developing countries.